Wild in the Streets

Several years ago, among her year-end predictions about depletion, Sharon Astyk – author of Depletion and Abundance and A Nation of Farmers – worried that there would be a rift between older and younger Americans. I found that hard to envision, but there have been a lot of teens shot and killed by older people in the last few months.

The highest profile case is that of Byron Smith, as summed up in the Seattle Times article, Minn. homeowner quickly convicted of killing 2 unarmed teens:

A Minnesota homeowner who shot and killed two unarmed teenagers during a break-in was quickly convicted of premeditated murder Tuesday, with a jury taking about three hours to reject his claim of self-defense.

Byron Smith, a 65-year-old retiree who once set up security in American embassies for the U.S. State Department, shot Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, multiple times after they broke into his home on Thanksgiving Day 2012.

Smith’s attorney said he was fearful after previous burglaries. But prosecutors argued Smith waited in his basement and intended to kill the teens, with a setup so elaborate that lead prosecutor Pete Orput compared it to a deer stand. Their key evidence was an audio recording that captured the killings in chilling detail, including Smith’s taunts as the teens died.

Although Smith has supporters, most people recoiled at the image of him putting down a badly-wounded eighteen-year-old girl. The Montana Standard covers a more recent and less sadistic case, Defense attorney on fatal shooting; Exchange students ‘garage hopping’:

[Markus] Kaarma, 29, is charged with deliberate homicide for shooting [German exchange student Diren] Dede twice in the early hours of April 27, after Dede and his companion entered Kaarma’s Grant Creek garage.

… [the companion, an Ecuadorian exchange student,] told police that he and Dede started “garage hopping” after they learned about the practice from other students at Big Sky High School. It’s unknown if Dede and his companion had burglarized Kaarma’s garage prior to the shooting.

In a statement released Tuesday, Ryan said Kaarma and his wife, Janelle Pflager, had been burglarized twice prior to the night of the fatal shooting and they felt uneasy, especially with their 10-month-old son in the home. …

The couple decided to set up a video camera and a motion sensor in their garage to detect an intruder. At 12:30 a.m., they were alerted to Dede’s presence in their garage.

Ryan claims “they watched in fear and terror” as the intruder entered the garage and headed toward the kitchen door. Kaarma, Ryan wrote, believed the intruder posed “an imminent threat” to himself and his family.

The 29-year-old former firefighter got up from the couch and grabbed a shotgun before exiting the front door and turning to face the dark garage. He fired four shots into the darkness, while his wife called 9-1-1.

There are rumors that Kaarma was under the influence of either alcohol or cannabis. Blood test results are forthcoming, but even sober, Kaarma faces a charge of felony deliberate homicide. And today the Sacramento Bee reports on another pair of dead teens:

Early Sunday around 12:18 a.m., Sacramento police responded to a call of a burglary in progress at a home in the 1000 block of Arcade Boulevard. “We get there within two minutes and we found the two suspects inside the house,” said {a police spokeswoman}.

Both of the teens had been shot, and Sacramento fire personnel pronounced them dead at the scene. … The two occupants of the home – a woman in her 60s and a man in his 70s – were not hurt. Police did not release details on how Crider and Sambrano got inside the home. Nor did police say who exactly had shot the two suspects, though they portrayed it as a self-defense incident and said the shooting appeared to be justified based on a preliminary investigation.

OK, first of all, every one of the teens was very stupid, but now they will never get the chance to be older and wiser. I’ve never robbed a house, but I can’t say I’ve never been where I wasn’t supposed to be, and I’m glad I didn’t get shot when I was young and stupid.

Byron Smith was clearly trying to play at being Charles Bronson in Death Wish. Markus Kaarma didn’t go quite as far as Smith, but he did bait a trap and tried to play the gun-toting hero. As I’ve noted before I think the media and NRA are stoking a growing feeling that these difficult times justify vigilante actions – but teen burglars aren’t zombies and it isn’t legal to just shoot them in the head.

I can empathize with the older couple in Sacramento. I could see being retired in my house with my wife, and being terrified by intruders. The mother of one of the dead burglars complained that the homeowners shouldn’t have shot to kill, but as my coworker noted, “It is a lot easier to shoot at the chest; to shoot to not kill requires some skill.” It also takes really good eyesight.

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